Comment: Thatcher and the state of the union

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Whatever one’s views about Margaret Thatcher, utterly predictable was the baying of Rent a Rabble at the news of her demise.

But for those still wet behind the ears it’s perhaps best to remember how the country was in the 1970s.

A nation to be ashamed of. Internationally derided as the Sick Man of Europe. A time of weak, ideologically stupid, ineffectual leadership, and of large swathes of the workforce used as stooges by union ‘barons,’ more interested in creating ego inflating private fiefdoms for political purposes than securing a stable and long-term employment for their members.

Yes, ‘Greed is Good’ was a mantra long before Thatcherite Yuppies. And, of the shambles that was British industry, foreign competition took swift advantage, and has remained dominant ever since.

Yet, especially from the Industrial Revolution, it was to counter Capitalist excess that unions began to be formed, and in 1873 fired by such ideals the agricultural workers at Swanbourne demanded a rise in their wages. Sir Thomas Fremantle agreed but only if the men left the union.

They refused, and a strike began. In a gesture of defiance men, women and children paraded through the village in the pouring rain, but despite union pay financial pressures began to tell, and 12 men left to seek new fortunes in Yorkshire.

As for those who remained, the womenfolk had little choice but to sell their household goods, and it was decided to accept the offer of Sir Thomas. Unsurprisingly a later attempt to revive the union met with utter failure but in time the workers found a local champion with the Rev James Forrest. His sermons often decried the tribulations suffered by the agricultural labourer, and due to such home truths during one Sunday lesson a prosperous farmer stormed out of the church in a rage. And hereby beginneth another lesson.

For as per the laws of universal self regulation it seems that when necessary the ultra left is brought into line by the ultra right and vice versa. Indeed, as recently evidenced when certain employers began to salivate at the prospect of introducing a ‘dismissal without reason’ policy for employees.

So to counter dictatorial overtones, unions, when intelligently run, have been essential.

But between employers and employees perhaps the best union would be that akin to a happy marriage – not too much give and not too much take from either side.